Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III picks off a pass intended for WR DeSean Jackson - Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
After talking about possible Hard Knocks storylines, chronicling James Wilder’s awesome career in Tampa Bay and a host of other Bucs-related topics this summer in SR’s Fab 5, it’s time to turn the focus toward Buccaneers training camp, which begins a week from now on Friday, July 28. Enjoy this special Bucs Training Camp Preview edition of SR’s Fab 5.
Training camp is where it all begins. Underwear football is over. The pads come on and the hitting begins. It’s time for real football. Training camp is where jobs are won and the depth chart begins to take shape.
In Tampa Bay, look for these five Buccaneers to begin what could be a breakout season for them.
DE Noah Spence
Fellow defensive end Robert Ayers has gone on record in saying that he believes Spence, who is entering his second season in the league, could be a 15-sack guy. Who am I to go against what Ayers says or not believe in Spence’s abilities? Yet 15 sacks may be a bit lofty for a player that recorded 5.5 sacks as a rookie, but didn’t capture a quarterback once over the last five games of 2016.
Bucs DE Noah Spence and LT Leonard Wester – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The Bucs expect Spence to be fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, and that injury, which occurred in Week 4, hampered his production all season. Spence, who was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Month in November when he had 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in helping Tampa Bay go 3-1 that month, has a year’s worth of his film to watch to get better and hone his skills. Going up against big, physical offensive tackles in Donovan Smith and Demar Dotson during training camp in August will also accelerate his learning curve.
They say the biggest jump NFL players make is between their first and second seasons, and Spence could become the first Buccaneer to record double digit sacks since Simeon Rice did it in 2005. Tampa Bay will use Spence as a designated pass rusher on obvious passing downs as Will Gholston leaves the field and Ayers moves inside to defensive tackle to rush next to Gerald McCoy.
Fifteen sacks is a lofty goal for any NFL defensive end. Only one player accomplished that feat last year and that was Atlanta’s Vic Beasley, who led the league with 15.5 in his second season. The guess here is that Spence flourishes in training camp and reaches nine or 10 this season and duels McCoy for the sack lead in Tampa Bay.
CB Vernon Hargreaves III
Hargreaves generated plenty of hype in the OTAs as he squared off against veteran wideout DeSean Jackson and won some of those battles against the speed demon, picking off one particular deep pass during mini-camp. Hargreaves is coming off a rookie season in which the Bucs’ first pick last year was thrown at more than any other NFL player. He survived 16 starts opposite Brent Grimes and learned a lot through trial by fire.
Bucs CB Vernon Hargreaves III – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
The good news for Hargreaves is that he never lost confidence in his abilities, which is key for any NFL cornerback. Hargreaves’ play got better as the season went on and his first – and only – interception came against New Orleans’ future Hall of Famer Drew Brees in the Bucs’ 16-11 home win against the Saints. The key to Hargreaves’ ascension and development will be to get more interceptions.
Bucs defensive coordinator Mike Smith wants Hargreaves to be more aggressive and play tighter coverage and he demonstrated his improvement in that area during the OTAs and the mini-camp. Hargreaves has always gotten a lot of picks in practice dating back to last year, but that needs to translate to game days and it will this year.
Having one of the fastest receivers in Jackson, and one of the biggest and best receivers in Mike Evans to go up against every day in practice will only make Hargreaves better. If Hargreaves keeps progressing as he’s done all offseason he’ll make opposing quarterbacks pay if they continue to constantly target him this year.
CB Ryan Smith
Smith’s name was one of the most buzz-worthy names bantered around the halls of One Buccaneer Place this offseason. After moving from safety to cornerback last fall behind the scenes, the Tampa Bay coaching staff saw that pay dividends in the OTAs as Smith emerged as a playmaking force in the passing game. The media also got to see first-hand what all of the buzz was about this spring during the open OTAs and mini-camp.
Bucs CB Ryan Smith – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Smith benefitted from Hargreaves and Grimes missing some OTA time by jumping in with the starting unit and taking reps with Tampa Bay’s first-team defense. Smith more than held his own and despite not playing a down on defense last year, he looks confident enough to see some playing time after starring on special teams as a gunner during his rookie campaign.
At 6-foot, 190 pounds, Smith is the biggest cornerback on the roster and is also considered to be the fastest. The Bucs like his physical playing style and swagger and see him as a possible eventual replacement for Grimes in time. The team is anxious to see Smith in his first live action at cornerback in the preseason after playing safety last August. Smith is strictly an outside player and will not factor into the nickel cornerback competition.
While he won’t become a starter this year unless there is an injury, Smith’s ascension may come at a cost to some playing time for Grimes and Hargreaves this year. If he has the type of training camp and preseason the Bucs are anticipating him having, Smith will push for some snaps this year and perhaps a starting job next year at outside cornerback if all goes well.
WR Chris Godwin
Godwin was a pleasant surprise during the offseason as this year’s third-round pick quickly absorbed Dirk Koetter’s playbook, ran crisp routes, got open and made some spectacular catches. While the scouts were excited to draft Godwin in the third round, he’s proven to be a quicker study than anyone anticipated, and was at times the most spectacular receiver on a field that includes Evans and Jackson.
Bucs rookie WR Chris Godwin – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
Bucs fans are quick to remember the early buzz that surrounded failed wide receiver Kenny Bell received during OTAs over the last two years and look at Godwin with a cautious eye. The difference between the two is twofold. First, Bell had inconsistent hands, while Godwin rarely dropped a pass since the rookie mini-camp. Second, Bell was a different player when the pads came on and wasn’t as confident. Godwin is a bigger, more physical player to begin with and should transition well to the hits that will come during camp.
Godwin will cross-train between the X (split end) and Z (flanker) positions, but won’t compete at the Y (slot) spot where Adam Humphries is slated to be the starter once again. Yet, Godwin might steal some playing time away from Humphries if Dirk Koetter decides to use Evans or Jackson in the slot for a few plays to create some size or speed mismatches the way Arizona does with Larry Fitzgerald and the way Atlanta does with Julio Jones. Godwin would play outside at X or Z in those circumstances.
While Evans will rarely leave the field this season, the Bucs will likely spell the 30-year old Jackson occasionally, as he isn’t accustomed to playing in the heat and humidity. Tampa Bay wants Jackson as fast in the fourth quarter as he is in the first quarter. The Bucs also want Jackson as healthy in Week 17 as he is in Week 16. Having Godwin take some reps and give Jackson a breather will extend Jackson’s season and hopefully keep him healthy. When Godwin is on the field, look for him to make a favorable early impression.
C Ali Marpet
Marpet was on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl player at right guard where his run blocking prowess has stood out for the past two seasons. The Bucs wanted him to move to center this year to help the interior running game and it is a move that Marpet has embraced this offseason. The fact that Evan Smith and Joe Hawley, Tampa Bay’s two previous centers, are around to help Marpet’s transition will only help.
Bucs C Ali Marpet – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR
At 6-foot-4, 307 pounds, Marpet has the ideal size to anchor the offensive line. He’s slightly bigger and stronger than Hawley and allows J.R. Sweezy, another physical road-grader, to move into Marpet’s old spot at right guard now that he has returned from last year’s back surgery. I believe Marpet can eventually get to the level former New York Jets great Nick Mangold reached as a 7-time Pro Bowl center.
Marpet not only has the demeanor to play the center position, but he also has the intelligence. After playing the demanding left tackle spot at Hobart College, Marpet made a seamless transition to right guard at the NFL level. Why doubt he can handle the move to center? He has two years worth of experience in Koetter’s offense, and is best friends with star quarterback Jameis Winston. Marpet will get the mental part of the game down in training camp and the preseason.
Marpet’s mobility and athleticism allowed him to quickly get to the second level when he played guard and will serve him well as he makes the transition to center. Look for Koetter to take advantage of Marpet’s skill set and use him to pull on occasion. It takes a special athlete to be able to pull and get outside as a lead blocker at the NFL level from that position, but Marpet has that ability. He’ll show it this year in his first year as center.
Scott Reynolds is in his 23rd year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR’s Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds enjoys giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons’ Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: [email protected]
Good report Scott on where the Bucs are at this point. We’re all excited to get this season going. Go Bucs!
Is it just me or does this feel like the late 1990’s when we were starting to come together?
Great camp preview Scott! Excited to hopefully see Offensive cohesion and lots of nasty, intimidating Defense! Let’s go 2017 Buc Ball!!
Training Camp Fab5. In the words of Buc’s season ticket holder, Dick Vitale, “awesome bay-bee!”
I hope we can avoid injury bug and some young players over achieve.
This the most anticipated camp in some time. GO BUCS
Really enjoyed the camp preview Scott, Thanks! I don’t think there were any surprises in all your bullet points, but you did hit on everything that I’ve seen partially said else where. I’m really excited about this season, the vibe is completely different from years past. PR didn’t sell us any false hope from the OTA’s, just reported that the guys were working hard and backing up with on point analysis.
As always, GO BUCS!
Very informative Fab 5…..as usual, Scott. Can’t wait for the season to start.
We’ll be going over for at least 1 or 2 practices, and every home game.
Looks like we have so much to look forward to!
Thanks Scott! Cant Wait for the Season to start! Glad Camp is back.
I just don’t see how our Offense & Defense wouldn’t be drastically improved this year over last year . A lot of people say this is a much tougher schedule than last year. I don’t think so. We played Seattle, Dallas, Bronco’s (Super Bowl in 2015), Raiders, Cardinals, Atlanta twice, Saints twice ( No team can take a win for granted) , Carolina twice ( Super Bowl in 2015). The Strength of Schedule is never what it looks like at the end of the year as it is at the beginning of the year. So I think this year schedule is no harder than last year and we should be hugely improved over last year. GO BUCS!!!
Being a guy who has difficulty just relaxing and doing nothing; I look forward to this time of year when I can go to Bucs practice instead of working around the house doing my usual weekend routine. This year is going to be a little more difficult to attend as many practices as in the past. I have two projects finishing and one starting. Plus we sold our house and are moving into our condo after we finish the renovation. And on top of that, going to Pittsburgh for my 50th high school reunion. August is going to be brutal, but come September, Scubog should have a bit more free time on weekends for football.
I’m looking forward to practice next weekend and spending some time analyzing the team with my buddy Pinkstob. This is the year he will give his long anticipated assessment of Jameis. There is sure to be great attendance and excitement. I try to ignore the number on the uniform and just make unbiased observations as to who stands out and who struggles.
Next Saturday as I head off to practice I’ll announce to my wife as I have for the past 40+ years, “See you in February”
Great Fab 5 Scott. Great primer for what to expect at training camp. Just 6 more days. Most anticipated and anxious to see training camp I can remember! For those attending camp or otherwise just interested, here is a primer on training camp rules taken from NJ.com.
Every training camp is governed by the rules of the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA).
*The first day of training camp (Friday for the Bucs) is limited to physical exams, meetings and classroom instruction. Running and conditioning are the only on-field activities permitted.
*No contact is allowed and no pads can be worn on the second and third days of training camp.
*After the third day of training camp two-a-days are permitted with the following restrictions:
-Players may be on the field for a total of no more than four hours per day.
-Players may participate in no more than one padded practice per day, which shall be no longer than three hours of on-field activities.
-There must be at least a three-hour break after the first practice.
-The second practice on the same day may only be for a maximum of the remaining available on-field time and has to be limited to only walk-through instruction (no helmets, full-speed pre-snap and walking pace after the snap).
-The three-hour limit on padded practices begins as soon as position coaches start to coach players on the field.
*If a team begins a padded practice but the practice is canceled within 60 minutes of its start due to inclement weather or any other reason beyond the team’s control, the practice won’t count as a padded practice.
*A padded practice is defined as a practice in which players are required to wear helmets and shoulder pads.
*Teams are required to film all on-field activities during training camp. A copy of the film needs to be maintained until 30 days after the start of the regular season. The NFLPA can view the film if a player files a complaint alleging a violation of the training camp rules.
*If a team violates the training camp rules, it is subject to fines.
A few other rules:
* The NFL announced a rule change to the training camp cut down process. No more cut down to 75 players, then a final cut down to the 53 roster. Now there will be only one cut down day. Teams will be required to get rosters down from 90 to 53 players no later than 4 p.m. ET on Sept. 3.
*Teams reimburse players for “reasonable traveling expenses” in getting to camp from their residences. Players who are released during training camp receive reimbursement for their return trips to their residences.
*Players receive room and board during training camp.
*Players receive per diem payments beginning on the first day of training camp and ending one week prior to the team’s first regular season game. First-year players receive $1,000 per week during the preseason, while veterans receive $1,800 per week. Players only receive their base salaries over the course of the regular season.
Enjoy training camp and the practices you attend. Go Bucs!
As usual excellent SR5 Scott. Ready for training camp with a little more optimism than usual this year. Every year feels like a winner, but this year seems special. As much as I follow football I feel like an idiot when I find myself asking the following question. Does aggressive competitive contact during camp and pre-season games equate to a better football team. I have noted that though they alter the rules every year to try to cut back on injuries, most teams have PUP and IR players by the start of the regular season. These guys for the most part have been playing tackle football since high school. They know what it’s like to hit and be hit.Do they really need the rigors of hard contact. Do you think GMC couldn’t fast forward to game 9, 3rd qtr. and demolish AP for a 10 yrs loss today. You can’t prevent concussions, torn ACL’s hamstring pulls et.al during the season, Why do we think that hard contact practice during the pre-season is going to better prepare our players.Conditioning, endurance drills, underwear football, weights, play and timing practice all help. I’m just concerned about season ending injuries in your opener. I guess to answer my own question, thats how we know who to play.
Fantastic review! Seems like lot more competition this year I guess because of more depth. That’s a good thing, but can be hard to follow all these competitions and positions. This really helped me get better picture of what’s going on.
I really am getting excited for season to start if they stay healthy it’s a great mix of talent. Spence and Smith healthy would be very interesting at the DE position.
Great Fab 5, Scott. For those of us who’ve been around for a while, does this feel like 1997, 1998, 1999? Talking about high caliber players at so many different position is exciting. Can’t wait for training camp. Go Bucs!!!
These articles are really getting me hyped for this season! The team is coming together, and seemingly right on schedule. Our Super Bowl opponents from 2002 have blossomed into contenders and we seem to be on the same schedule. Barring any catastrophic injuries, it’s playoffs or bust this year…possibly Super Bowl contention in 2018. I’m VERY excited to see this all play out.
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